OPINION: Ignoring session call latest offense for a scofflaw Legislature

  • Alaska state Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, are seen before the start of a joint legislative session on April 17 in Juneau. The pair issued a statement June 24 stating the Legislature will ignore Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy's call to convene a special session in Wasilla. (Photo/Becky Bohrer/AP)

The zombie legislative session that will not sine die staggers on aimlessly, consuming the brains of anyone trying to make sense of what’s going on and swallowing the souls of those still naïve enough to believe in following the laws as written.

In the latest escalation of a race to the bottom, Senate President Cathy Giessel and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon have thumbed their noses at Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s call to a special session in Wasilla to decide the fate of the Permanent Fund dividend despite admittedly not having the votes to call themselves to Juneau.

A great irony of the 31st Legislature will be going down in history as one that managed to pass a new tough-on-crime bill while simultaneously breaking as many laws as possible.

The 90-day time limit on legislative sessions approved by voters? Pffft.

The 35-year-old statutory formula for calculating the PFD? Yeah, right.

No per diem without an operating budget? We didn’t really mean that.

The law says the governor can choose the site of a special session? We. Don’t. Care.

Most galling of all is that when the leaders of the Legislature decide to ignore a law they hide under the claim of constitutionality.

Sometimes they don’t even bother going that far.

“It’s a gray area,” Edgmon told James Brooks of the Anchorage Daily News about the leadership’s authority to ignore the governor’s call, but they plan to conduct some mutant combination of floor sessions in Juneau and committee hearings in Anchorage anyway.

These leaders would be a lot more credible when it comes to defending their turf if they’d shown any competence at doing their jobs or a bare minimum respect for the laws they’ve passed.

Instead, the scofflaws have only been emboldened over the past four years after escaping any repercussions for skipping out on their lease at the Downtown Anchorage Legislative Information Office under the guise of the “subject to appropriation” clause.

The result of that decision is that the Legislature has spent $24 million on the Wells Fargo bank-turned-LIO but still has no place to actually conduct a special session in a single building on the road system.

Many people cheered that decision to abscond from the Downtown office and leave the owners to face foreclosure on a $28 million loan taken out on the faith and credit of the Legislature, and likewise approved of the subsequent refusal of former Gov. Bill Walker to fully pay off the year’s balance of refundable oil tax credits without any warning to banks or the industry.

The owners knew what they were doing, some argued. The companies knew the terms, some excused.

Now some of these same folks are squealing about not following laws governing the PFD or per diem.

Only now do they realize that just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.

Only now may they realize that the decision to take the easy way out on the Anchorage LIO without really saving any money was the gateway drug to funding government by cutting the PFD.

Once the Supreme Court enabled the Legislature to ignore its formula on the PFD, it has been a free-for-all on gimmicks and budget shortcuts and disregard for the law, even those that are barely a year old.

Their “solution” to the tax credit liabilities ran afoul of constitutional questions and is headed for the Supreme Court. So is their claim about the legality of forward “funding” of education without actually funding it and their assertion that they don’t have to convene a session according to the governor’s call.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the Legislature keeps getting dragged into court. That’s where most scofflaws eventually end up.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

06/26/2019 - 9:45am